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Myths shops want you to believe...

Some traders will tell you anything to make you go away, rather than just give you your money back. Here's a handy look at the most common highstreet fibs, and the truth behind them...

"Verbal contract? It's not worth the paper it's written on".

Verbal contracts cartoon - Phil Evans
Not true. Verbal contracts are legally binding. And the law protects you if traders incorrectly describe an item (whether they do it in writing or verbally) or tell you that an item will suit a purpose for which it is not fit (for example, selling a glove as an oven glove if it conducts heat). The difficulty is obviously in proving what you were told by the seller. Whether you have to prove what the seller said, or the seller has to prove that he didn't say what you accused him of saying depends on the situation. If this happens to you get advice from Consumer Direct.

"No refunds on sale items".

How often have you seen this sign in a shop? Whether they can do this or not depends on why the goods were on sale. If they were reduced in price because of a fault that was either pointed out to you or that you could have been 'reasonably' expected to notice before you bought it, then you are not entitled to a refund. But, if it was just on special offer or in the January sales, you are entitled to get your money back if it turns out to have a fault, to have been inaccurately described, or not fit for the purpose that it was sold for.

"We don't offer refunds - you must accept a credit note"

If you buy goods that turn out to be faulty, the law says that the contract you made when you bought those goods has been broken by the seller. You are therefore entitled to cancel the contract (as long as you have acted within a reasonable amount of time) and get a full refund. Remember if you accept a credit note you will not be entitled to change your mind and ask for a full refund later. So, before accepting a credit note always check if there is a time limit on its use, and if there is likely to be something else you would want to buy from the same trader.

Consumer rights cartoon - Phil Evans

"We can't do anything without a receipt".

There is no legal obligation for shops to even give you a receipt, let alone for you to keep it. Shops should accept any proof of purchase, like a bank statement or credit card bill (if you paid by credit or debit card). If you paid in cash and have not kept the receipt, you may have difficulty proving that you bought the item.

"It is not my fault if it doesn't work. Make a complaint to the manufacturer."

It is the person who sold you the goods with whom you have made a contract. They are therefore responsible for sorting out any problem, and not the manufacturer. You do not have to claim on a manufacturer's guarantee unless you want to.

"It was fine when I sold it to you. You must have broken it!"

If something breaks and you inform the trader within six months of purchase it is the trader's duty to prove that the item had no fault at the time it was sold to you. If you have had the item for over 6 months it is your duty to prove the fault was present at the time of purchase.

"If you have a complaint you have to bring it back to the shop and we'll discuss it"

Whilst this may not be an unreasonable request if we are talking about an item of clothing from a local shop, it is if you bought it in a different town, if you have mobility difficulties, or if the item you bought is the size of a small elephant. No matter what the size or weight of the goods it is technically always the seller's duty to collect faulty items. Of course if it is simply a case of you having changed your mind you do not have these automatic rights, but many traders will come and collect large or unwieldy items from you in the interests of customer service.

If you are having difficulties with a shop or service, get advice from Consumer Direct. See 'Links to other websites'.

Have you been fobbed off by a shop? What did they try to tell you, and what did you do about it?
Tell us using the comment form below.

Mary Webber - Advicenow
November 2010

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